Division Chiefs Look Back on an Unforgettable Year

Ali Tavakkoli, MD, and Richard Steven Blumberg, MDDespite the formidable challenges created by the novel coronavirus pandemic, the Brigham and Women’s Hospital General and Gastrointestinal Surgery and Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Endoscopy divisions celebrated substantial achievements in 2020.

With 2021 now upon us, the division’s respective chiefs, Ali Tavakkoli, MD, and Richard Steven Blumberg, MD, reflected on the events of last year.

Division of General and GI Surgery

Dr. Tavakkoli, who was named division chief last year, oversees a team that delivers care at seven outpatient clinics and four surgical sites across Eastern Massachusetts.

Among the division’s clinical highlights from 2020 was closer integration of the bariatric surgery group with medical weight loss and bariatric endoscopy teams in the new Center for Weight Management and Wellness. The center features one of the region’s premier teams, who offer a comprehensive weight management approach to patients with obesity and related metabolic disorders, and reflects the expanding treatment options for patients struggling with their weight.

“To bolster our role as a regional tertiary referral center in New England,” Dr. Tavakkoli said, the division has introduced a multidisciplinary high-resolution anoscopy clinic led by James Yoo, MD, in partnership with the Division of Infectious Diseases. The division has also launched a comprehensive multidisciplinary hernia clinic and further expanded its robotic colorectal surgery program for complex colorectal surgery.

Division faculty have continued to break new ground in many areas of research. Eric G. Sheu, MD, PhD, received a $3.3 million National Institutes of Health R01 grant for his work exploring the antidiabetic mechanisms of bariatric surgery. In addition, the work of Thomas C. Tsai, MD, MPH, on COVID-related health policy and planning garnered national media coverage, while the colorectal group made multiple podium presentations at national meetings.

In the realm of education and training, Nelya Melnitchouk, MD, MSc, took over as program director for the division’s colorectal surgery fellowship. Both that and the advanced minimally invasive bariatric surgery fellowship have remained extremely competitive and strong, said Dr. Tavakkoli, who also saluted Brent T. Shoji, MD, for receiving the Clinical Teacher Award from the Brigham and Women’s Physicians Organization.

Lastly, the following faculty assumed new leadership positions in national organizations:

“It has been a wonderful privilege to serve as division chief,” Dr. Tavakkoli said. “For 2021, our goals include offering more tertiary-level consultations via virtual visits, expanding our multidisciplinary clinics for weight management and hernia care and continuing to collaborate with colleagues at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute on cancer care.”

Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Endoscopy

Dr. Blumberg also pointed to the launch of the Center for Weight Management and Wellness as one of his division’s 2020 highlights. Christopher C. Thompson, MD, and Pichamol Jirapinyo, MD, MPH, worked with colleagues in general and GI surgery to make the center a reality. Last year also saw the integration of the former Faulkner GI Associates, a practice of eight gastroenterologists, into the division.

A $20 million pledge from Barbara and Frank Resnek funded the launch of the Resnek Family Center for Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis Research, which is dedicated to discovering what causes PSC and developing and testing new therapies for the disease. Center director Joshua R. Korzenik, MD, leads a multidisciplinary team of experts in PSC and related disorders such as ulcerative colitis. Two other donors who have made an enormous impact on the division are Ken and Louise Goldberg, who have supported clinical, research and educational programs for 10 consecutive years.

Dr. Blumberg also called out C. Giovanni Traverso, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of medicine and associate physician. Dr. Traverso has made groundbreaking bioengineering discoveries aimed at developing novel means of drug delivery. Furthermore, he has had papers published in high-impact journals such as Science and established several companies to translate technologies developed by his team into clinical care.

With the generous support of families suffering from inflammatory bowel disease, Frederick Lang Makrauer, MD, established the IBD Fund for Research to support the efforts of Brigham fellows and junior faculty to improve treatment for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. In December, the fund announced its inaugural research awards to support two trainee projects.

Finally, in its continuing pursuit of global health care equity, the division played an integral role in founding a new nongovernmental organization, GI Rising. This international nonprofit is committed to establishing locally sustainable GI and hepatology training programs in Africa.

Other 2020 milestones for division faculty include:

  • Peter Alan Banks, MD, received the Legacy Award from the National Pancreas Foundation in recognition of his career achievements in the field of pancreas disease.
  • Blumberg was named the incumbent of the newly established Jerry S. Trier, MD, Distinguished Chair in Gastroenterology, which honors the division’s founding chief.

“In the face of COVID, I’m proud that our team has continued to deliver the highest level of tertiary care, publish great pieces of work, make discoveries and provide programmatic support of the medical school,” Dr. Blumberg concluded. “We continue to apply ourselves vigorously and to earnestly pursue excellence across all aspects of our mission.”